Hiv and physical activity – How and why to get get started

The development of treatment for hiv has been fantastic. But despite that, people living with hiv still face worse health outcomes compared to the general population. What can we do to counter this and improve our health and well being? Turns out, quite a lot, and it starts with movement!

In our 30´s our bodies begin to age. The biological aging process makes the cells in our bodies slower and less fit. From the reproductive system to our skin, muscles and senses, most of our bodily functions become affected. The aging process also affects cognitive abilities which can result in changes in mental health. How fast and in which way we age hinges on genetics, our environment as well as way of living.

Today we know that almost any physical activity has a positive impact on our health and slows the aging process, even when physical activity is initiated at an older age. In other words, there is no best before date to get started with some exercise.

Living with hiv and general health

The ability and function of the heart, lungs and muscles is often referred to as cardiorespiratory health. In people living with hiv, cardiorespiratory health is in general worse compared to people not living with hiv (1). The exact reason behind this is not fully known, but there are signs of a faster aging process, commencing earlier, in people living with hiv (2). A number of studies has shown that the aging process starts 5-10 years earlier in people living with hiv, resulting in an earlier onset of common aging disease such as diabetes, cardiorespiratory disease and certain cancers.

The good news is that we do have ways to both slow down the aging process and decrease the risk of early onset of aging diseases.,Whether it’s in a gym or just in everyday life, physical activity is something that most can do and fit into their lives.

What impact does physical activity have on the health of people living with hiv?

Just like with anyone else, physical activity improves the health in people living with hiv. Increased lung capacity, ability to absorb oxygen and mobility are some of the effects that have been proved when people living with hiv start with some form of physical activity. Both aerobic activity (for example brisk walking and bicycling) and resistance training (for example weight training and swimming) has shown to have similar effects(3). Other benefits of physical activity is more of the healthy cholesterol and less of the bad cholesterol. Since certain hiv medications can increase lipids and fat in the blood physical activity works as a great counter measure (4).

Physical activity has also shown positive impact on overall well being and quality of life in people living with hiv. In one study, a group of people living with hiv that currently did not exercise started on a three times a week training regimen. Compared to a group that did not start exercising the group that did exercise showed improved quality of life as well as less anxiety and depression (5).

Even the sleep can be improved by physical activity. Bad, interrupted or too little sleep are often one of the causes of fatigue, which in turn can lead to decreased or no physical activity. However,pPhysical activity should not thou be thought of the holy grail to insomnia. Stress, socio-economic status, mental health, hiv in itself or medications can all impact your sleep (6).

What type of training should I aim for?

All types of physical activities are beneficial, but there are some differences in how and in what way certain types of physical activity improves our health. The best effect however, is a combination between aerobic activity and resistance training and in general, the higher the intensity, the better effect (7). One should of course be cautious to not sustain injuries and gradually increase the intensity.

How do I get started?

Being shameful of our bodies, our health and ourselves can be barriers preventing to get started. But with support, cheers and a sense of everyone started out as at some point, can help.

Studies have also shown that a training buddy, or someone who checks in on the progress, increases the chances to continue sticking to the training. Could a friend with hiv, a neighbor, relative or maybe someone at the gym be your go to person to talk to? Another method is to get a prescription for physical activity from your doctor and let a health professional follow your progress.

Three final advice

  • Find a type of physical activity that feels good for you. Test and try, be brave and experiment to find out.
  • Get together – train, cycle, walk or just talk about your own ambitions and progress with someone to share your experiences and be proud of every small step forward!
  • It’s never too late – if you haven’t started yet you have the most to gain!

If you are having a hard time getting started, or maybe the motivation isnt really there? Get in touch and let’s talk how to get going!For further reading, check this article which summarizes many of the most important points in this article: